The novel’s title, I believe, is a wordplay on ‘course’ that means both instruction and a journey, like that of a meandering river. Indeed, Love is a learning journey.
This book in three descriptive phrases (because it’s so nuanced single words are not enough): intricately wise, humorously cryptic, and painfully honest.
There are so many “quotable quotes” sprinkled generously throughout the book which reverberates clearly with the wisdom of years – this is a first novel from the bestselling author of The Art of Travel, Essays in Love and many more, in nearly two decades. Clearly, age and presumably a journey with marriage of his own makes this book refreshingly different from his earlier titles, while still retaining his poetic style.
But despite a whole list of quotes I’ve typed out and saved in my phone, no fragment of the book can truly encompass what The Course of Love means. It is not a lesson the author preaches, but rather a journey that we go through together with the couple in the story. Whether it is fictional or not ceases to matter, because they are so full of failings and imperfections that finally, we have a love story that is so startlingly real that it filled my heart with both pain and relief (simultaneously).
As such, it is imperative to go through this book like a journey, and just like the journey of love itself, it requires patience, contemplation, self-reflection and the willingness to consider a perspective vastly different from what you’ve known.
Love in this book is not romanticised – in fact it attempts to deconstruct the vision and expectations of love that Romanticism has built in human society.
With great insight and very incisive and powerful writing, Alain de Botton unfolds and lays bare all the vulnerabilities of being human and the unpredictable nature of life that we strive and fail to hold within our grasp.
In the end, he teaches us, slowly and patiently, to appreciate and cherish the imperfections, frustrations, incessant anxiety, and the grand heroism in accomplishing the small things that aren’t really small after all. He shows us the beauty of what many of us fear or aspire to surpass: mediocrity.
I would like to leave here the closing paragraph of the novel (no spoilers, since there’s nothing to spoil anyway as it’s not really a destination but a continual journey):
Very little can be made perfect, he knows that now. He has a sense of the bravery it takes to live even an utterly mediocre life like his own. To keep all of this going, to ensure his continuing status as an almost sane person, his capacity to provide for his family financially, the survival of his marriage and the flourishing of his children – these projects offer no fewer opportunities for heroism than an epic tale.
He is unlikely ever to be called upon to serve his nation or fight an enemy, but courage is required nevertheless within his circumscribed domains.
The courage not to be vanquished by anxiety, not to hurt others out of frustration, not to grow too furious with the world for the perceived injuries it heedlessly inflicts, not to go crazy and somehow to manage to persevere in a more or less adequate way through the difficulties of married life – this is true courage, this is a heroism in a class all of its own.
And for a brief moment on the slopes of a Scottish mountain in the late-afternoon sun, and every now and then thereafter – Rabih Khan feels that he might, with Kirsten by his side, be strong enough for whatever life demands of him.